October 21, 2020

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GUEST COLUMN: Is higher education ready for technology challenges? | Opinion

5 min read
Two trends/challenges facing higher education are a rise of the competency-based education framework and advances...

Two trends/challenges facing higher education are a rise of the competency-based education framework and advances in technology for today and moving forward. While the former trend/challenge is more so with higher education as a whole, the real challenge with both is more directly with the educators. As tenured, aging educators face the reality of what’s around the corner, I believe the questions to be addressed are: Are they ready for the change and will they be able to adapt? Will higher education institutions properly adjust to the possibility of even fewer people in the brick and mortar setting and more in the virtual learning space?

Not only do these challenges come from technology, but more so how the students are going to use it. The rise of online courses, shorter/more inviting competency-based learning platforms and freedom within the parameters of learning pace (faster/slower) are not likely to drop in their level of impact. So, what does this mean for educators and higher education as a whole? I believe there needs to be at least a two-pronged approach to address the matter.

My research revealed that there is some hesitancy on part of higher education accreditation to embrace the competency-based learning platform and allowing for acceptance and application of the credits to degree programs. It seems that the reluctance to move from the traditional education/credit application could be a hindrance for students to enroll in degree programs, which then creates a challenge for higher education institutions that need to have faces in spaces (distance or campus).

As a military veteran, I have found that there is a lot that I know and have learned based on my life and military experience and education that I can transfer to college credits pretty easy. There is of course some leeway for this with many veteran/military-friendly colleges and universities, but only up to a certain number of credits. No matter the affiliation, there are many people out there in the same boat that could likely achieve success in a degree program at a more rapid pace using a competency-based model, but will higher education and the accreditation bodies fully embrace it?

I know there are arguments on both sides of the aisle regarding the value of traditional and competency-based platforms. I see value in both platforms. That said, competency-based education/learning is not for everyone, just as traditional education/learning is not for everyone. Continuation towards openness and acceptance of a blended-platform approach is likely the answer.

Traditional versus competency-based education is a challenge, but there is a more direct challenge that is facing educators and students alike … technology. For the students, the use of higher levels of technology to increase the learning experience, aid in transmission of teaching and assignments, and the speed at which it can happen is great, as long as the student knows how to use and navigate the technology. With an ever-increasing rise of adult learners entering the education space, either for the first time or returning for additional education, age and technical savviness of the student is worth consideration. However, where I find an even larger challenge is with the educators, especially those that are accustomed to the typical direct instruction, lecture/listen and take notes style. Even in the age of distance learning, it takes a less conventional type of educator to manage and succeed in that teaching forum … for themselves and the students.

So, students and educators have to be ready to handle the changes in forum and technology. What does an educator do when they are not able to keep up with the changes: either willingness or ability? As mentioned previously, this could be more prevalent with the more tenured/aged educator that just isn’t capable or perhaps even willing to make the adjustment. I think the willingness aspect will be a more personal discussion, but based on the Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model, the readiness level of the educator will need to be assessed. If there is simply a true inability, for a variety of reasons, then there has to be a tough conversation about what is best for the educator and the institution. So, what role does performance management play in the process?

Performance management is an important aspect of this process, in that it carries with it performance appraisals based on expectations and requirements for a position, personal/professional development, etc. In this instance, establishing the expectations and requirements are crucial to the success of the educator, as they will be what they are measured against throughout the year.

Not specific to any particular higher education institution, rather performance management as a whole, this means that the job description will reflect, among other things, the type of instruction methods and practices that are accepted, and those that are not (if needed), with the desired outcome for student success. This should be backed by the goals and the strategic direction of the college/university, which is reiterated by the department and direct supervision chain.

The expectations should not be a surprise, nor should the overall annual performance appraisal rating, since there should be conversations, feedback and interaction on both sides of the supervisory relationship. Another aspect of the performance management system that is critical to the success of the institution, educators and students is developmental opportunities through a vibrant and active talent/people development program.

There should be money invested in self-education opportunities for those that want to learn how to use technology more effectively, learn new methods of instruction for the modern student and incorporate up-to-date practices to increase their effectiveness and the success of the students. So, setting the standard/expectation upfront, providing feedback and assistance as needed, as well as developmental opportunities are crucial aspects of performance management in adapting to the identified trends and challenges facing higher education.

Rich Parsons is founder of Chief Success Officer of Higher Calling Consulting in Colorado Springs.

Rich Parsons is Founder, Chief Success Officer of Higher Calling Consulting, LLC in Colorado Springs.

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